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Posted 07.29.05

MU Researcher Working to Predict Stuttering Recovery

Study Looking for Connection Between Language Development and Stuttering Patterns

COLUMBIA, MO -- Stuttering usually starts in children between ages two and five. While most children recover from the disorder, some continue to struggle with fluent speech production. Now, a University of Missouri-Columbia researcher in the School of Health Professions is taking the first step toward understanding how individual patterns of language growth might predict which children will recover on their own and who will need continued help.

Stacy Wagovich, assistant professor of communication science and disorders, is studying how language development and stuttering affect each other. Stuttering occurs once grammatical development is underway and children start combining words. "We are looking to see how stuttering changes as a child accomplishes specific language milestones, and whether changes in language and stuttering over time can help us predict which children are likely to grow out of the disorder," Wagovich said. "We believe that children's early language skills might uncover something about how their stuttering will progress over time."

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Wagovich has been following individual children between the ages of two and five for the past year. She examines each child once a month to analyze how aspects of language and fluency change together. When a child's vocabulary shows a marked increase, Wagovich observes this pattern to see how the stuttering changed along with the vocabulary growth. The relationship between language and stuttering in the children who recovered during the study are examined for patterns that could be used to predict recovery in other children."

There are a lot of core questions about stuttering that have not yet been answered," Wagovich said. "In the past, parents often receive the blame for the problem, but now we know that parents are not responsible for the stuttering. External factors, like stress, can make stuttering more severe at a specific moment in time but do not cause the disorder."

Wagovich is an associate editor of the Journal of Fluency Disorders. Her expertise is in the areas of childhood stuttering and language disorders in children. This project is a collaboration with Nancy Hall, University of Maine; and Mary Ann Scheneman, University of Missouri-Columbia.

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